Terrorists are sane, doctors claim

The term 'terrorist' is not a psychiatric diagnosis, the Royal College of Psychiatrists heard today. Dr Andrew Silke, a forensic psychologist at the University of Leicester and an adviser to the UN, said the outstanding characteristic of terrorists is 'normality' with forensic assessments of terrorists from the Baader Meinhof to Al Queda revealing high levels of mental health.

The widespread view that terrorists are isolated, vulnerable young men with paranoid or borderline personality disorders, is false. It is entirely perpetuated by experts relying on second hand reports, he told the conference.

A survey of 180 members of Al Queda revealed that all came from middle or upper class backgrounds, with two thirds being college educated, one in ten with a postgraduate degree and 73 per cent married with children, he said.

Dr Wilfred Rusch, a Berlin psychiatrist employed by the German Government to assess Baader Meinhof terrorists concluded that none of these people are crazy - there is no psychiatric explanation as to why they were involved in terrorism.

Dr Silke said it was important to understand that the word terrorist is a political not a psychiatric diagnosis, with catalyst events, usually involving violence, creating the energy and the desire for revenge and the wish to punish the state.

There is substantial evidence that people decide to join a terrorist group when they have been involved in a demonstration where police use excessive violence. There were 500 violent deaths in the four years before Bloody Sunday and 500 in the six months after it, a staggering increase in terrorist violence.

He said it wasn't essential to experience violence at first hand. TV footage increasingly acts as a catalyst. Footage of a father and son cowering in a house immediately before the boy was shot dead by Israeli troops in Netzarin on the West Bank in 2000 triggered a staggering increase in violence



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